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By Marc Riboud
When he began travelling around the Mediterranean in the early 1950s, Marc Riboud discovered a world on the threshold of modernity and yet, in a way, almost frozen in time. It was no accident that he first experienced it on the Dalmatian coast, where Fernand Braudel saw one of the beating hearts of “his” Mediterranean. Between Split and Dubrovnik, the boy diving in a perfect arc is the younger brother of the Paestum diver. The old women in black and the nuns in full costume belong to the past, while the girl walking along in a bikini under the reproachful gaze of her grandmother is the younger sister of Gina Lollobrigida… So many culture shocks as we turn the pages of time… Riboud sees the same density in Morocco and on the Bosporus. The risk of the picturesque is never far way: the great arches of the palaces of Fez are admirably majestic, but are these unsmiling children bent double under huge piles of fabric excuses for a beautiful picture or echoes of unbearable exploitation? The photographer records the scene, without commentary, leaving the viewer free to decide. “Photography cannot change the world, but it can show the world when it changes”, as he often says.
It was perhaps in Istanbul that he found peace, in the unique atmosphere of the hammam, captured forty years before Ferzan Özpetek’s beautiful film. The marble and the pools are bathed in light sculpted by the outlines of the vaulted ceilings, just as they were in the Roman mithraea, whose design Le Corbusier, at around the same time, was rediscovering for his churches. Bodies rest as if abandoned, lightened by scrubbing and steam. A lightness reminiscent of the dawn of the world, fuelled by long centuries of spa culture, invites us to linger. Under the beating sun, halfway between East and West, these clever, playful images celebrate a delicate balance redolent with calm sensuality.
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